New York Daily News
11-year-old British girl committed two murders
IN 2009, BRITISH newspapers announced that a 51-year-old woman had become a grandmother. At least one reader greeted the news with sorrow. “A child is a blessing. She took my blessing and left me with grief for the rest of my life,” June Richardson, 64, told the Daily Mail. “I hope every time she looks at this baby she realizes what my family are missing out on because of what she has done.”
The new grandma was Mary Bell, Britain’s notorious child murderer. Richardson was the mother of the first of Bell’s victims.
On May 25, 1968, a day before her 11th birthday, Bell killed Richardson’s 4-yearold son, Martin Brown. Even more horrifying, she would not be caught until she slayed another child later that summer.
The killer and her victims lived in Scotswood, a slum in Newcastle, about 250 miles north of London. Trash heaps, empty fields, and abandoned buildings in an area known as “rat alley” were playgrounds for the children there.
Teenagers looking for scrap wood in one of the derelict buildings found Brown’s corpse.
There were few marks on his body and investigators couldn’t figure out exactly what killed him, so they chalked it up to an accident. “Rat Alley boy may have died of fright,” blared one newspaper.
It seemed unimaginable that this could be the work of another child, even one as deeply troubled as Mary Bell, the daughter of prostitute Betty Bell. Her school chums, however, were well aware of the danger she posed. Many had suffered attacks by the small dark-haired girl with the piercing blue eyes. They were terrified of her.
Still, no one suspected she was the boy’s killer, despite some bizarre actions after the discovery of the first body. Soon after Brown’s death, for example, she came to his home and asked his mother, June Brown (now Richardson), if she could see him. When June told her Martin was dead, Bell replied with a smirk, “I wanted to see him in his coffin.”
In her school notebook, Bell wrote about the dead child and drew a picture. In it, she included details that had not been made public.
A few days after the killing, someone vandalized a nursery school, leaving behind notes in a childish scrawl. “I murder so that I may come back,” went one. “We did murder Martain (sic) brown F--- of (sic) you Bastard.”
No one put these pieces together in time to prevent another tragedy.
On the last day of July, Brian Howe, 3, had gone outside to play after lunch. His body was found later in a rubble field known as the “Tin Lizzie.” Unlike Brown, Howe’s body bore unmistakable signs of violence, including an “M” carved on his stomach with a razor blade and mutilating his penis.
The wounds appeared to be made by someone with limited strength, what one investigator characterized as the “gentleness of the death.” Investigators decided to focus on the area’s children and to reopen the investigation into Brown’s case.
It wasn’t long before they homed in on Mary Bell and her next-door neighbor, Norma Bell, 13 (no relation).
Each immediately pointed accusing fingers at the other.
Psychiatrists examined Norma and declared her too passive and slow to have taken an active role in these terrible crimes. After a nine-day trial, a jury acquitted her.
The prosecutor characterized Mary, who was smart and charismatic, as a “most abnormal child, aggressive, vicious, cruel, incapable of remorse.”
A jury found Mary guilty of manslaughter — a lesser charge than murder — because of “diminished responsibility.” This is a mental defect that made it impossible to understand the nature of her crime. She got a life sentence, which she started serving at a boy’s reform school, the only institution in Britain that seemed equipped to accommodate her. In 1973, she entered a women’s prison.
In just seven more years, at 23, she was out on parole, her identity concealed. She had to leave one of her first jobs, working in a nursery school, when her probation officer reminded her it was inappropriate for her to work with small children.
Within four years, she was a mother herself, giving birth to a daughter.
In the 1990s, Gitta Sereny, a journalist whose fascination with the roots of evil led her to write extensively about Nazis, decided to take a close look at what turned this child into a monster. In a widely criticized move, Sereny paid Bell $76,000 for her cooperation.
Sereny’s book, “Cries Unheard — Why Children Kill: The Story of Mary Bell,” delves into the horror story that was Bell’s childhood. It started with with her mother’s words upon first sight of her newborn daughter — “Take the thing away from me.”
The mother-daughter relationship went downhill from there. Betty, whose fleshpeddling specialty was sadomasochism, started selling her child for sex when the girl was about 5. Betty also beat and tried to poison her daughter, said friends.
The result of this hellhole of a home was a sadistic killer, a person with no empathy, Sereny wrote. But over the years, the onetime “little fiend,” as a newspaper called her, appears to have softened. By many accounts, she has been an excellent mother and has not gotten into trouble again.
Upon her release in 1980, Bell was granted anonymity, as later was her daughter. It was scheduled to end when the girl turned 18 in 2003, but Bell’s case evokes such strong emotions that the courts granted both mother and daughter lifetime anonymity.
In 2009, this protective cloak was wrapped around Bell’s grandchild, who is known in court records simply as “Z.”